Pinker, Marcus, learning and culture

In an Edge interview, Gary Marcus talks about how his perspective on the “nature/culture” issue differs from his mentor, Steven Pinker.

Pinker allows less room for improving the human condition than I would. I don’t think we disagree a whole lot about the nature of the facts, but Pinker tends to put his emphasis on the ways in which the biology constrains us in one direction or another, and he puts less emphasis on ways in which learning can change those things. I would say that the ability to learn is actually one of the things that humans are really good at. One of our unique talents is an incredible facility for learning, an incredible flexibility in learning, that even some of our closest primate cousins don’t have. Our miraculous abilities to learn actually open up lots of possibilities, and by not stressing this, Pinker in his latest book paints a somewhat darker picture of human nature than I would.

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